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On the Road to Austin with Mumblr: A DIY photo essay about SXSW

Photo by Abi Reimold | abireimoldphoto.com
Photo by Abi Reimold | abireimoldphoto.com

Scott Stitzer lights a cigarette behind the wheel of a big white van as he pulls away from Han Dynasty – the Old City upscale Chinese restaurant where he and his bandmate, Nick Morrison, work as waiters. “The thing that was really apparent about this whole process is that there are people that support us, as people, which is all a human being wants. It’s so gratifying.” Nick and Scott just got off their last restaurant shift for the next week. Not only did Han, the owner of the restaurant, allow them to take off time off, but he also lent them his business van to carry the band and its gear 1,700 miles to Austin, Texas for the 27th annual South by Southwest festival. The band, Mumblr, was invited by their label, Fleeting Youth Records, to play a showcase with local bands from Austin and other artists on the label. Follow along their journey in pictures. [continue]

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“A mix of sleaziness and professionalism”: Philly artists weigh in on their SXSW experience

The Districts | Photo by John Vettese
The Districts at Buffalo Billiards | Photo by John Vettese

The rickety van piloted by Philly psych-thrash outfit Ruby the Hatchet rolled into Austin just a few hours before its first South By Southwest gig last week. Cutting it close, for sure, but the band was just happy to arrive.

“We broke down,” guitarist John Scarperia explained as he set up for the End Records showcase at LIT Lounge. “We were stuck in Tennessee for two days.”

Ruby the Hatchet | Photo by John Vettese
Ruby the Hatchet at LIT Lounge | Photo by John Vettese

Talk about a setback. I ask if they missed any tour shows on the trip down. Scarperia laughs, then says “We didn’t play any. But it was fun, all part of the adventure, right?

The band dished a raucous set of its heady, heavy rock to a modest but appreciative crowd – which included singer-songwriter Nicole Atkins, a longtime friend of Hatchet frontwoman Jillian Taylor. The next day, it rocked Thrasher Mag’s unofficial Deathmatch showcase, and spent the rest of the weekend mingling with the music-devouring masses. Overall, it was a positive experience, and even culminated in Taylor getting a new tattoo (a hatchet, of course).

Ruby the Hatchet was one of dozens of locals that made the trek to Austin this year. Musicians of all styles and degrees of renown represented Philly at SXSW. There were known names like rapper Spank Rock, who played an energized set to a buck wild crowd at the Boyz Noize showcase at The Majestic on Thursday, and alt-bluesman G. Love who played the 18th Floor of the Hilton Garden Inn the same night. There were emerging artists, like folk singer Vikesh Kapoor and punk power trio Amanda X, or SXSW vets like rapper Lushlife, heavy psych heads Creepoid, and dream punks Nothing, who played a 2 a.m. set on a pedestrian footbridge.

Chill Moody | Photo by John Vettese
Chill Moody onstage at Amped Austin | Photo by John Vettese

“I feel like SXSW serves as a hub for discovery,” says Philly rapper Chill Moody, who I caught during his showcase at the Amped Austin lounge on Saturday afternoon. “I met a bunch of musicians and professionals in the music industry in just one week. Built some strong connections that will hopefully help me with the next steps in my career.”

For Moody, who is used to feeding off the love of the hometown fan base he’s cultivated over the past few years – he headlines venues like The TLA and Union Transfer locally – it was an opportunity to perform to complete strangers in smaller rooms, and win them over. The Amped show featured his right hand man Beano, a charismatic and occasionally comedic R&B singer, hopping offstage and dancing in the midst of the crowd, to the delight of many Instagram-snappers.

“It was a good chance to show a different audience exactly what you can do,” said Moody.

Downstairs at the same venue, electronic rock duo City Rain debuted songs from their new Songs From a High School Dance LP, due out in late April. Again, the crowd was (with the exception of myself) strangers, but people fed off singer / songwriter Ben Runyuan’s relentless energy, particularly on the driving anthem “Waiting on a Dream.”

“This is our last showcase,” Runyan said. “So I’m just throwing everything I got into this.” Continue reading →

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Eight artists that surprised us at SXSW

Kelis | Photo by John Vettese
Kelis | Photo by John Vettese

It’s been almost a week since the four-day nonstop multisensory rush that was the 2014 editon of Austin’s annual South by Southwest music conference, which has given me just about enough time to catch up on sleep, edit my way through thousands of photos and sort out my thoughts about the experience. Here are eight artists that grabbed my attention at this year’s SXSW, beginning with the woman you see above.

Kelis – The transformation of the onetime “Milkshake” hitmaker didn’t take me as unawares as it may have taken other festival-goers. A few years back, I caught her on tour with Robyn at The Trocadero, and saw that she’d moved on from her bubblegum dance days to a sleek and more sophisticated electropop sound. But still, this was impressive – her backing band was a dozen members strong, it had a sharp horn section and a disco-funk sound to die for, and the singer had enough awareness of nostalgia’s power that she dropped “Milkshake” in the final third of her late-night Friday set at the Hype Hotel. Which was totally fun, but it would have been a powerful performance without. Her sixth album, Food, was produced by Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio and is out April 18th on Ninja Tune Records.

Feathers | Photo by John Vettese
Feathers | Photo by John Vettese

Feathers – These Austin locals just got off a European tour opening for Depeche Mode, and their sound sits nicely alongside the 80s icons’ dark synth-dance tones. I caught them Saturday at the goth-leaning Red River club Elysium, and frontwoman Anastasia Dimou freaking owned the packed room. While their sound is decidedly hard-hitting, she has the presence and command of a pop singer – or, say, an alt-pop singer a la Emily Haines of Metric. Even when the power momentarily cut out, Dimou kept singing a cappella and off mic. Their Only One EP dropped in January.

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Watch PHOX perform “1936″ from their World Cafe session at SXSW

Photo by John Vettese
Photo by John Vettese
The Wisconsin indie-folk pop band PHOX did a World Cafe session with David Dye in Austin during SXSW last Thursday, March 13th as part of the Cafe’s Sense of Place Austin series. The show was held at the Four Seasons in collaboration with the KUTX Morning Show broadcast at the Four Seasons. Dye, writing about the band on the Cafe tumblr, said lead singer Monica Martin “has charisma to burn,” and the band played material from their forthcoming self-titled debut album coming out on Partisan Records in June. Listen to their Cafe session here and watch them perform “1936″ below.

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Watch Kins perform “Pale Faced Fear” during their World Cafe session at SXSW

Photo by John Vettese
Photo by John Vettese
In Austin during SXSW there’s music happening morning, noon and night. Imagine being a band, having to load into a venue at 6AM, and be ready for a 7AM performance. That’s what the British band Kins were up against last Thursday morning, March 13th. Kins opened up the four band bill for World Cafe and KUTX at the Four Seasons and, despite the early wake up call, played a sublimely gorgeous set of songs from their recent album. Listen to the World Cafe session and interview here and watch them perform “Pale Faced Fear” below.

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Watch Bright Light Social Hour play “Sweet Madeline” during World Cafe session at SXSW

Photos by John Vettese
Photos by John Vettese

Austin’s Bright Light Social Hour brought a capacity crowd to their feet during an early morning live session and interview they recorded with David Dye and World Cafe at the Four Seasons Hotel in Austin last Thursday as part of the Cafe’s Sense of Place Austin series. The six song set was heard on WXPN in Philadelphia and KUTX in Austin. Listen to their session here. Below, watch the band perform “Sweet Madeline” from the session.

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Watch Temples play “Shelter Song” and “Mesmerise” at SXSW, listen to their entire set

Emerging UK psych rockers Temples joined us yesterday to wrap the Public Radio Rocks SXSW showcase with a stunning performance of songs from this year’s Sun Structures. Check out video below of them rocking out “Shelter Song” and “Mesmerise,” and listen to their performance in its entirety here.

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